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Organize in Defense of Israel's Democracy

Dina Zilber
Dina Zilber
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Activists establish illegal settlements at the West Bank.
Activists establish illegal settlements at the West Bank.Credit: Moti Milrod
Dina Zilber
Dina Zilber

The environment is losing control of itself and needs protection. Temperatures exceeding 40 degrees Celsius in London, global warming, melting icecaps, and freak storms and floods all over the world are bringing us to the dawning realization that to even begin the effort at halting the long-term damage, urgent, decisive action is needed now.

We haven’t taken care of Mother Nature. And now, in despair and terrified by our carelessness, she is hitting back at us with increasingly lethal blows.

Israel’s democratic environment is no less in need of urgent protection. Here, too, things are heating up, and if it continues this way, nothing good awaits us.

We are seeing this in the polls predicting double-digit gains for racist political parties. It’s evident with public figures blatantly encouraging the breaking of the law because they believe that when it comes to settlements absolutely anything goes. We are witness to it with political candidates vying with one another to see who can mount the most malicious attacks on the legal system and its symbols.

This ugly list goes on with Knesset members who no longer see the necessity of defining Israel as a democratic state since “there are plenty of democratic states, but only one Jewish state.”

We can only burn with fury to read that the city of Afula is banning driving lessons on Shabbat in order to keep Arabs out because “Afula is a Jewish city,” or to hear all the talk that casts aspersions on the loyalty of 20 percent of the population, or the ease with which the public accepts a Jewish woman’s refusal to share a room in the maternity ward with an Arab woman.

We can only be sickened by the rabbis’ letter prohibiting LGBT events at the Psagot Winery in Sha’ar Binyamin because “[those people] blatantly violate our eternal values and pull the ground out from under our hold on our land.” We are dumbfounded that the city of Tel Aviv is holding gender-segregated events to which “girls above the age of three will not be permitted entry.”

All of us who see and fear what is happening – and this is just a partial list of the bitter harvest – must wake up.

It is no longer possible to suffice with sighs of dismay, with denial, with minimizing the threat to our deepest and most basic self-definition. Repressing it, withdrawing into our personal lives or grieving inwardly won’t change an environment where the oxygen of democracy is thinning.

Those who cringe at the toxic discourse, who long for civility, who are despairing, who feel a weight pressing on their heart, who are deeply upset by all of the things mentioned above, who feel like the stagnant and filthy waters have already reached the level of their mouths, and soon will cover their noses and drown us, can no longer look away.

In her new book, “Journey from the Land of No,” Roya Hakakian, an Iranian Jew who immigrated to the United States, describes her childhood in the shadow of Khomeini’s revolution.

Of course, there is no comparison to what is happening now in Israel, but to illustrate the totality of the change that a society can undergo in the blink of an eye, first look at a photo that appears in the book, taken just a month and a half before the revolution in Iran: Men and women can be seen sitting together on the beach, wearing bathing suits.

Just a few months later, the book recounts, “[they] arrested men in short sleeves, women with a hint of makeup, girls whose bangs peeked out from under their scarves. … Rosy-faced students with long eyelashes had to pull at them to prove they were real…. Another regulation mandated that all non-Muslim business owners display a sign in their windows: ‘This store in operated by a non-Muslim’ … and true to the Hippocratic Oath, Jewish doctors and nurses in small cities rushed to treat the wounded soldiers but were spurned by them, for however critical their condition, they did not wish to be touched by ‘unclean’ Jews.”

When the ice suddenly cracks, massive waves wash over the continent in a deadly flood. The change is liable to be rapid, violent, extreme and intense. At that point it will be a lot harder to anything useful about it.

Our democratic climate is in a crisis and in urgent need of a protection. A broad awakening is needed, a movement that will take action to halt the towering, murky and not-at-all imaginary waves whose roar we can already hear.

As retired Supreme Court President Aharon Barak once said: “These are fateful moments. … If we do not protect democracy, democracy will not protect us.”

Dina Zilber is the former deputy attorney general.

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